By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Only wrapped my lips around a spliff once (quite an accomplishment, since I've been to 27 Grateful Dead shows).
Never shot heroin, though some of the downer bands I've seen sure have made me want to.
[More laughter, punctuated by clapping]
No, friends, Demon Grease is my lone vice.
[Thick air of sobriety descends upon the room]
I've tried to kick it, but the cravings always return, and I always surrender to them. I've had wild flings with healthy eating and working out in gyms, but I inevitably slip back-probably because, after working up a good, stanky sweat, nothing else fills the soul quite like twoallbeefpattiesspecialsaucelettucecheesepicklesonionsona sesameseedbun.
I really oughta know better because that shit can kill.
[A solitary "Amen" from the back of the room]
But I can't help it. The joy, the ecstasy, the zen of fast food has been programmed into me since childhood. Particularly McDonald's. As corporate corrupters of America's youth go, McDonald's has always had RJ Reynolds and Phillip Morris beat.
[The guy who said "Amen" stands and says it again]
Remember all those disturbingly cheery TV commercials with Ronald McDonald, the Hamburglar, Mayor McCheese and that big purple blob Grimace (who they named, I've since wildly guessed, after the expression you get on your face when you've devoured a boxful of Chicken McNuggets)? Stalinist indoctrination techniques is what they were, re-educating kids away from their healthy veggies, brainwashing them into the Cult of the Golden Arches. I think those ads still run on Saturday mornings. My God, can't somebody stop these evil pricks?
Resistance, though, is pretty damn impossible. My addiction is so strong it tells me to ignore my politics whenever I go to a Carl's Jr. or In-N-Out, even though I know the hideous right-wing zealots who run those chains will take my money and give it to one of their pet causes that I'm against. But still, fast food is cheap. Fast food is convenient. Fast food is everywhere. Fast food is (usually) fast. Goddamn it, fast food tastes good!
[Stunned silence, as if those in attendance are staring perfect, radiant truth right in the puss]
So what if you gotta run to the can a half-hour after downing your last French fry! Fuck health! Fuck healing! Fuck exercise! Fuck high-fiber diets! Fuck fruits and vegetables! Fast food is . . . American.
[Clapping. Someone hums "My Country 'Tis of Thee"]
Sweatin' to the Holies
Rosita Latham says it's time to pray, so we step outside. "They don't like us praying in here" she says-in here being Long Beach's DeForest Park Community Center, though as community centers go, this one would have trouble handling the traffic Mayberry would throw its way. The Ping-Pong table folded in one corner, the rollaway chalkboard in another and the chairs stacked in a third make things snug.
Rosita is beaming. She says: "Eight years ago, I had a vision, and in it, I saw good spiritual people dying from physical problems. . . . The Bible says the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. So I took up an exercise ministry."
So here we are. Four women, me, Rosita and her associate Nina Jewel-Wood. Here we are brought by Rosita's thrice-weekly gospel aerobics, the Vessels of Honor for God, brought by the irresistible lure of heavenly salvation and firmer buns.
Outside, we link hands in a small circle, and Rosita begins to pray. Being Catholic, it's a kind of prayer I'm not used to: passionate, rapid, syncopated, the words flying fast yet always with purpose. She prays that no one will be injured today ("Yes, oh, God!"), prays for the people we care about ("Yes, dear Jesus"), and-her voice building, her words accelerating my own breathing and heart rate-prays for our health.
When I arrived at DeForest Park that evening, the sole of my left foot was sore, my back hurt, and my stomach was upset. By the time Rosita ends praying, I notice my foot, back and stomach feel fine. I know, I know-but they do, so shut the hell up. Look, I'm not saying God looked down and said, "Hmmmm, got that Iraqi situation and the AIDS thing and famine and . . . oh, wait a minute, there's that guy with the sore foot. That's Job One!" I'm not saying that. I'm just saying.
The class starts, and we go through some warm-up exercises although the music is already bouncing off walls, linoleum and Ping-Pong tables, pounding into us as Rosita calls out instructions and Nina chimes in with: "Come on! Come on!"
From the first, I'm unable to move the way I'm supposed to. It brings back such bad memories of aerobics, which were essentially created for a woman's body. When I attempt to march in time, raise my arms and take a deep breath, as Nina does beautifully before us, I don't exactly look like a dweeb so much as Lord God King Dweeb, Righteous in All That Is Dweeb, Was Dweeb, or Was Ever in the Slightest Way Dweebish or Dweeb-like.
Rosita gives me a glance and grins as she begins to chant/yell, "I can/Do all things/Through Jesus Christ/Who strengthens me." And then she counts a four count before starting with "J-E-S-U-S" and finishes with the evening's ubiquitous triple lunges refrain: "Father! [lunge] Son! [lunge] Holy Ghost! [lunge]